Tracking and predicting consumer behavior to influence the customer experience

By Hannah Wren, Content marketing associate

Published April 7, 2020
Last modified April 7, 2020

Consumers always had the power to choose what brands to remain loyal to, and being constantly connected has given them greater ability to influence other consumers’ buying decisions as well, whether they’re posting a Tweet or writing a Yelp review. With their phones in their pockets, and the Internet on their phones, consumers also now have the power to mandate where, when, and how they interact with companies. Research is clear: consumer behavior—consumers' needs, beliefs, choices, aversions, and frustrations—impacts the fate of your business.

It's an empowering time for businesses, too. The digital revolution also made it easier for companies to collect insights on the consumer to better understand their audience's behavior. While consumers have more power to learn about a brand before they even visit its website or one of its stores, businesses can learn more about what customers want through data. But with companies managing three times as much data as they did five years ago, it’s also difficult to determine which metrics matter. Read on to learn how consumer behavior impacts customer support and how to leverage those insights to create a better experience.

What is consumer behavior?

Consumer behavior looks at the emotional, logical, and social factors that influence both existing customers’ and potential customers’ relationship with your brand. This includes why your customers are loyal to your brand over similar options on the market, how they use your product or service, or what factors might motivate them to stop their business with you. The study of consumer behavior examines how consumers behave across the customer journey and across demographics, such as age, social class, or gender.

“Consumer behavior is anything consumers do, think, and feel,” explained Thomas O'Guinn, professor at the Wisconsin School of Business, author, and expert on consumer behavior. “It addresses what motivates individuals, societies, groups, and cultures to behave the way they do in terms of purchasing.”

They may not realize it, but your customer support team studies consumer behavior every day. They’re on the front lines with your customers, which means they have a direct window into their responses that precede and follow certain activities or events that impact their behavior, such as a social-impact marketing campaign, product update, or public-health emergency.

Examples of consumer behavior that impacts customer support

Consumer-buying behavior affects all areas of your businesses—from acquisition and retention to marketing, public relations, sales, and support. Examples of consumer behavior that particularly impact a support team include:

  • Retail sales spiking during the holiday season, such as on Cyber Monday
  • One Zendesk study found that customer requests can increase by over 40 percent during the holidays. For companies that aren’t prepared for this massive wave of customer contacts, average response time can increase, and cause a dip in customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores.

  • The aftermath of a crisis, such as a physical or public health emergency, service disruption, or public-relations nightmare
  • For example, data from Zendesk’s Benchmark Snapshot showed a strong link between the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the globe and spikes in customer requests happening in response, putting pressure on support teams to adapt quickly to meet customer demand and safeguard customers’ trust.

  • Channel preferences changing over time and across generations
  • Email and the phone used to be the bread and butter of customer support, but consumers increasingly prefer to communicate with brands over the same channels they use to interact with friends and family, such as Facebook Messenger or Twitter DMs. Findings also show that millennials and Gen Z are more likely to use social and messaging channels.

  • The power of word-of-mouth marketing over advertising
  • 83 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family, which is unsurprising, but 66 percent also trust opinions strangers post online. Good customer service can result in positive reviews as well as remedy negative reviews—Harvard Business Review found that consumers who complained about a brand on social media and received a response were more loyal afterward than those who never complained at all.

  • People reacting to a change in your product or service
  • This might include the launch of a new product feature, software update, or new pricing model, such as when Amazon launched its Amazon Prime membership program, which resulted in an avalanche of new customers and likely indicated a need to quickly scale its support.

  • Emotions influencing buying decsions
  • Consumer psychology shows that emotions influence consumers’ decision-making processes. While marketers might plan campaigns that tug at consumers’ hearts, agents interact with customers directly, and are essential in establishing real, human relationships with consumers early on, from the first moment they reach out.

Tracking and predicting consumer behavior to influence customer experience

When businesses glean insights about consumer behavior from their support interactions, they can drive more customer-focused business decisions. Consumer behavior modeling is a form of predictive analytics that looks at trends and patterns in existing customers’ and potential customers’ behavior to provide insight into what can be expected in the future. This kind of approach can help customer experience teams be proactive and prepare for events such as how to serve customers during the holidays or support them through a product update.

Here are five tips for tracking and predicting consumer behavior—and then using those insights to improve the customer experience.

1. Don’t ignore customer feedback; use it to get better

Consumers want and expect their voices to be heard, and their feedback provides valuable insight into understanding their behavior. One way to allow consumers to become active participants in your brand and help shape your product or service is by following up on a customer service interaction with a survey. This enables you to glean insight into where your organization can improve, before that consumer stops doing business with you or writes a bad review.

This feedback can translate into consumer-centric product improvements or trigger reviews of processes and policies on behalf of your consumer base. For example, when Zappos learned that return fees were dissuading some consumers from buying new shoes, they amended their return policy and made it free. Or, Chobani uses consumer feedback when creating new yogurt flavors.

2. Use your community forum as a virtual focus group

Community forums provide businesses with a window to observe how consumers behave. Consumers often use a brand’s community to discuss features that they would like to see or pain points that they experienced. Organizations can use this information to adjust their marketing efforts or product strategy. O'Guinn, who co-invented the term “brand-community,” explained that community forums are better for observing consumer behavior than focus groups because they are more authentic:

“Community forums are a powerful source of consumer behavior data because the data is naturally occurring and consumers believe they own the community, rather than the manufacturer. Consumers aren’t being influenced to say anything, compared to a focus group where a moderator might indirectly impact their responses. Focus groups are also expensive; it’s a lot cheaper to gather data in a public forum.”

3. Look for trends in your customer service analytics

Changing patterns in ticket volume, first-reply time, or customer satisfaction scores can enable companies to better understand how their target audience behaves. These are called historical analytics. When used to look forward, they can enable businesses to predict when agents are needed around holidays, product launches, and marketing campaigns, and which channels make sense to leverage during those times.

For instance, if ticket volume increases or first-reply time dips with every software update, this likely indicates that customers expect more help during that time. To better prepare, you might offer relevant knowledge base content to keep customers in the loop, before the update.

Tracking these metrics across channels is also important. For instance, high satisfaction scores on Facebook Messenger might translate into a conversational support strategy. Or, if your customers are active mobile users, this might mean offering support on your mobile app so they don’t have to move between multiple web properties.

4. Implement a Voice of Customer program

Beyond customer support, customer analytics can help improve product planning and marketing strategies, too. Many consumer-focused businesses implement a Voice of Customer program, which involves sharing support data across the organization to improve the overall customer journey.

For example, if your audience is highly engaged on social messaging channels, your marketing team might create a targeted campaign across Facebook and Instagram. Marketing teams can also use data about frequently asked questions or common pain points to adjust their campaigns to reflect the specific needs of potential customers.

Similarly, product teams might use those metrics to better plan product offerings and feature rollouts. For instance, Vimeo’s support team partners with their product and analytics teams to ensure that customer feedback informs key product decisions, which drives measurable improvements, such as reducing customer cancellations with product updates.

5. Connect your support data with the full view of the customer for better-personalized insights

To better understand and predict consumer behavior, businesses should connect all their customer data—from support as well as other areas of the customer journey—for more personalized insights. This involves combining support data with customer information from other sources, such as your marketing automation software or order management system, which opens up possibilities like sending special promotions to dissatisfied customers with recently closed tickets, or giving agents a view into the promotional offers that a customer recently received. And it pays off—80 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences.

“Previously, businesses had limited amounts of data, such as only a customer’s ZIP code. Now, brands have much more fine-grain data and segments,” explained O'Guinn. “This means they can tailor their messages, instead of treating every customer, for example, that’s in the same ZIP code as the same person.”

Providing this kind of tailored experience requires businesses to pull data from customer service—and outside of it—to create a single, actionable view of the customer they can leverage across the organization. This means connecting your customers’ support interactions with their demographics, purchase history, product usage, lifecycle context, and key details such as opened outbound emails, abandoned shopping carts, and returns—of course keeping data privacy and compliance in mind. When customer experience teams can easily access all of the customer context they need, when they need it, they can glean insights that empower them to personalize the customer journey and build brand loyalty.

The 3 types of customer service metrics that matter

Learn how to use your customer service metrics to drive better business decisions